Wednesday, October 10, 2018

Looking for my mojo

Last Friday I planned to embark on a long ride, but instead went back to bed. Of course I'm not proud of this. Lingering over my morning coffee left too much time to read too many articles about the erosion of democracy. This lead to hot takes on climate change and early rumblings about that landmark U.N. report. "Nothing can be done. Therefore nothing need be done." Soon I was wondering where I could find the nearest ice floe to float into oblivion before there's no sea ice left. My bed seemed like a safer option.

I also have selfish and slightly more rational reasons for ennui. After weeks away, I thought I'd be thrilled to reunite with my bicycles. But my ride last Wednesday was many levels less than great, even accounting for recovery from a cold and re-acclimation to altitude and "being out of bike shape." Sure, I hadn't been in the saddle for nearly six weeks, but 120,000 feet of climbing and equal, even harsher pounding from on-foot descents in that time period is not exactly idleness. Also, I spent plenty of time above 2,000 meters while I was away. So why do my lungs feel so compressed? Why are my legs so limber and yet hopelessly heavy? Why am I dizzy on climbs that I could crush two months ago? Why am I fantasizing about floating away into a partially frozen sea?

I went looking for something tangible on which to blame the latest slump. I requested another blood test, since it had been five months since my last. My doctor ordered the works, and everything turned up ship-shape. My TSH has nearly hit 2.0, which is right in line with the general population. I took my numbers to the self-proclaimed experts on my Graves Disease forum, and they pointed out that my thyroid hormone levels are likely too low. T3, the active hormone, has almost dropped off the low end of the acceptable range. We all have optimal levels, which are individual to us and much narrower than the general range, they said. They told me I'm overmedicated, and that's why I feel bad. But why would I be having the same symptoms? The breathing? The insomnia? The anxiety? My favorite endocrinologist blogger, who would vehemently disagree with most of what people write on that forum, would simply repeat his oft-repeated phrase: "It's not your thyroid."

Okay, then I just suck. That's fine. Only this month was to be the month I made important-to-me decisions about whether or not to race next year. I'd set my sights on the 2019 Tour Divide, to celebrate my 40th birthday with a glorious attempt to execute an ideal race effort, or at least something that's significantly less of a disaster than 2015. I'm not really interested in just riding the route. If I want an adventure, I know there's something out there to occupy my dreams and hopefully fill in the mental spaces that I tend to fill up with bad news. No, this is specifically about racing and whether I want to pursue that hard edge. If so, I need to commit and begin training, ideally with sharper focus this time.

But the Tour Divide is in June, which recent personal history shows is a terrible time for fitness. Why even bother training if you're just going to sputter out like you did on the Iditarod in February? Maybe you could ITT the route in late August/September? You've long believed that's a better time of year on the Divide, but enduring heat and wildfire season does make a late season ride more iffy these days. And what about March? If you're not training for anything, you could do just about anything. But I know, you really, really want to go to Alaska. Maybe you should look into the possibility of renting a room in Nome? 

I know, indecision about possible adventures is the definition of a first-world problem. It does take the mind off of lead legs and heavy lungs, ever so briefly.

While motivation was plummeting to new lows, a bout of cold weather moved into the region. For three or four days the world was a solid wall of fog. I went for a couple of short and really slow runs through the icy mist. I visited my gym and lamented how much ground I've lost in my weight routine. I took days off. Finally, on Tuesday, light snow began to fall. My friend Betsy and I had planned a ride on Wednesday morning. When we scheduled this a week ago, I suggested riding either West Nederland or the Sourdough Trail, "to ride in the high country one more time before shoulder season hits." Then shoulder season beat us to the punch. There was some back-and-forth texting about how much we wanted to ride in slop. Betsy pointed out that hard things are good for mental training. I had to agree, especially when my own mental fortitude is as soft as a melting snowball.

 All I'd seen of the storm so far was the lightest dusting at 7,500 feet, so I was a little surprised to see several inches of snow at 9,000 feet. We laid what appeared to be the season's first tracks on the Sourdough Trail, stirring up powder as we grunted over nearly-invisible rocks and roots now coated in ice. I was grateful Beat had graciously offered to swap out the wheels and tires on my fat bike the previous evening, as I was lazy and busy on Tuesday night, and would have happily showed up for this ride with the 29+ set-up. We needed the surface area, aggressive tread and studs. Conditions were treacherous ... and incredibly fun.

Above 10,000 feet there were six to eight inches of heavy snow covering the ground, and every pedal stroke was hard work.  The temperature was 18 degrees, and a brisk wind kept us grinding without reprieve. Thick curtains of snow fell at times, masking our tracks just minutes after we laid them. Betsy and I were all smiles, wrestling with bikes at 3mph through a winter wonderland. Betsy, who is training for a 60-kilometer fat bike race in December, fretted a little over failure math. "I can't ride 60K when five miles takes almost two hours."

"Three miles an hour is a great speed on snow," I assured her. "Fat Pursuit won't take you more than what, 12 hours? More likely you'll be done sooner. Also, the course has no rocks and roots, which makes a bigger difference than you'd think."

She asked me if I occasionally walk these winter races because walking is faster.

"Walking is never faster," I answered. "You'd think so at times, as slow as we're moving. The sled is even slower."

It is, truly, an exquisite slog. As crappy as you felt on the Iditarod Trail last February, you were still enamored with it all and dream about it frequently still. I can't believe you decided to skip a winter of racing and training. Maybe you can still plan a solo trip out of Nome. 

 I still have a ways to go to find my mojo, but this was a nice start.  


  1. Given your "schedule" over the past month, perhaps MoJo is in recoup mode...
    I've found that when "routines" get interrupted, even for a day or two and especially when traveling, things get out of whack. Hopefully that snowy bike ride and cold temps is a step in the right direction. A lot to be said for "There's no place like home..."
    Happy Trails,
    Box Canyon

  2. I just took two days off from exercise after my latest PCT hike. I need to find my mojo too. Then I wonder if I have hantavirus because I feel so tired and sore throaty. So I can relate to your worries! Most likely both of us have just been doing hard things and need some rest.

  3. I think you need a new Mantra: 40 is not old, 40 is not old, 40 is not old...It should be a great age for endurance events. Something is still "off" a bit. You just have not found what it is.

  4. I certainly have nothing to add for your situation of uncertain-ness fitness-wise. I however have noticed that for absolutely no reason that I can find, I can get out on my bike feeling like I own the world, and then stink to high-heaven. And then on days when I just feel like crud and not really like riding at all, I go and have a FANTASTIC ride. Maybe it's just part of the mystery of life. I have no idea, but I do know to revel in the days when the planets align and I have the good day...and then to suck it up on the less-than-stellar days. I can find nothing whatsoever to blame my pathetic days on...they just seem happen. Maybe everybody is like this and they just don't even know it? Just a theory. That, or I suck just about as much as I am awesome...and it all depends on the day.

  5. Oh...and 40 is NOT old. I'm closing in on SIXTY! (turned 58 back in Sept). Even that's not old (except on my sucky days, then it's ancient!)


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